At least, that’s the case laid out by ad-verification firm Meetrics, which tracks billions of impressions each month. Its latest report shows that in the U.K. the number of display ads deemed viewable has sunk to its lowest level in 18 months: down from 54 percent to 47 percent in the second quarter this year.
That’s far worse than in continental Europe. Germany and France still boast a steady 62 and 60 percent, respectively, which is roughly the same as the previous quarters. Austria gets the viewability gold star, with an average 69 percent of its ads viewable.
The IAB viewability benchmark of 50 percent of the display ad for one second is really just a jumping-off point. Most advertisers demand that their ads are seen a lot longer than that. Group M has set its own viewability demands, while Meetrics said the ideal is 10 to 20 seconds.
A bunch of reports out this year have shown that Europe’s viewability rates for display are below par. But so many publishers have redesigned and decluttered their sites to improve viewability that it’s still surprising the decline is so steep. As to the reasons why, opinions vary.
The rapid growth of programmatic in the U.K. has caused “volatility” in the market, which is upsetting viewability rates, according to Meetrics head of international business Anant Joshi.
But Joshi suspects there are also other factors at play: Some publishers are speeding up ad refresh and reloads to raise inventory levels to counter the effects of ad blocking, he said.
“Publishers are under pressure more than ever because ad blocking is reducing their inventory, and that’s having an effect on viewability rates,” said Joshi. He added that 20 percent of ads weren’t viewable because they weren’t in frame long enough. “That’s the highest rate we’ve seen due to this reason for some time,” he added. Not all publishers will be doing fast ad reloads, but Meetrics stresses some are, just not necessarily on their main pages.
Amir Malik, programmatic director at Trinity Mirror, said that although ad refresh is a taboo, it’s a reality and a tactical response to the declining ad revenues digital publishers face. Although he doesn’t agree that the drop in viewability rates in the report is directly related to ad blocking, but to the overall decline of direct display revenues. “It acts as another plaster for the gaping revenue wounds programmatic is creating,” he said.
“The slump in viewability should be interpreted as the difficulty display is facing on the mobile platform as it becomes the bedrock of inventory for most media owners. More innovation, maybe native or video, will have to grow on mobile web as display doesn’t translate well from desktop at all,” he added.
Darren Sharp, head of programmatic at Incisive Media, has another theory for the viewability rates dropping: HTML ads. When the industry ditched the more resource-hogging Flash ads for HTML, it didn’t cure latency issues. “HTML ads often have multiple network calls which can result in ad latency, and most viewability vendors record ads based ads rendered, so if this is taking longer, then viewability would decrease,” he added.
Austria has the highest viewability rates because of an agreement by the majority of publishers to move to billing by viewable impressions by selling their inventory based on an independent viewability definition agreed on by a dozen leading advertisers, according to Joshi.
The top-20 publishers have set the terms, and three of them have managed to put their prices up as a direct result, added Anant. Austrian national newspaper Der Standard uses lazy loading — only showing the ad when it is viewable. They’ll make a call to the ad server when the ad slot is viewable (and has been third-party verified) and then refresh it only after 30 seconds. Then there’s the “bad” use of lazy loading, when the ad isn’t verified to be viewable but refreshed anyway after 30 seconds, and that’s what depletes the numbers, added Joshi.